It is not possible to identify a date when Baptist ideas first emerged in Ireland but there is ample evidence that Baptist Churches have been around since the middle of the seventeenth century, with early records showing churches established in Cork (1640), Dublin (1642) and Waterford (1650).
On a wider level the history of Baptist witness in Ireland throughout the remainder of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is not one of glowing health and unstoppable progress. Indeed the Baptist cause is described as having "lingered rather than lived".
However, in the first half of the nineteenth century Baptist churches were founded at the rate of almost one per year. County Tyrone in particular experienced remarkable growth with eleven churches founded in the space of forty-five years. This growth also impacted the provinces of Connacht and Munster. However, much of this work was decimated by the Great Famine of 1845-1849. It is estimated that numbers were depleted by more than 3,000 both through death and emigration. As a result quite a number of churches disappeared in the south and west of Ireland.
The 1859 Revival and its outflow greatly strengthened the churches in Northern Ireland and this ultimately led to the balance of Baptist work shifting from the south to the north. As a result of the revival many new workers were enlisted to advance the work and a number of churches were planted.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Irish Baptists decided to take ownership and responsibility for the work in Ireland. As a result, the Baptist Union of Ireland was formed in 1895 and links with the Baptist Union of Great Britain were severed. 29 Churches were recorded as being in membership of the Union in 1895.
By 1927 this figure had risen to 52. At that point growth slowed. In 1951 there were 61 churches with 4,741 members. In the period 1950 to 1990 the major growth was in Northern Ireland with some 38 churches joining the Union. At this time only one church was formed per decade in the Republic of Ireland. However this situation altered dramatically in the 1990s. In 1990 there were only 13 churches in membership from the South. By 2015 this number had risen to 28.
In 1999 the Baptist Union decided to return to its historic name of the Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland. This action was taken in an attempt to emphasise that the Association is not a denominational structure but rather is a group of autonomous churches of the Baptist faith and order in Ireland which have agreed to work together as a network of Gospel churches.
In 2015 the Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland celebrated its 120th Anniversary. A booklet telling the story of the Association and giving thanks to God for his faithfulness was produced to mark this occasion. You can download a copy of booklet here.
There is a great need to continue our work together as an Association to see, in God’s Grace, the gospel advanced, lives changed, churches established and the Kingdom of God extended right across Ireland and beyond.